Date of Award

8-2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Cynthia A. Erdley

Second Committee Member

Douglas W. Nangle

Third Committee Member

Peter J. LaFreniere

Abstract

The primary purpose of this study was to consider the role of early adolescents' peer experiences (i.e., peer acceptance, number of mutual hends, friendship quality) in predicting their adjustment across the transition from elementary to middle school, and to examine whether students' goals and attributions added to the prediction of adjustment, above and beyond the peer variables. The second goal was to include a comprehensive assessment of participants' adjustment (i.e., loneliness, depression, self-esteem, school involvement, academic achievement, school avoidance) and to investigate changes in the adjustment variables across the transition to middle school. Finally, this study examined potential gender differences in adjustment during this transition. Participants were 365 early adolescents (1 75 boys, 190 girls) who completed both the Time 1 (spring of fifth grade) and Time 2 (fall of sixth grade) assessments. Peer acceptance was assessed using a sociometric rating scale and number of mutual friendships was evaluated through an unlimited positive nomination procedure. Participants also completed measures that assessed fnendship quality, feelings of loneliness and depression, self-esteem, extent of involvement in school, and attributions and goals in socially challenging situations. Information regarding participants' academic achievement and absences from school was obtained from student files. Results indicated that peer acceptance, number of friendships, and friendship quality are somewhat related dimensions of early adolescents' peer experience that make unique contributions to psychological and school adjustment, both concurrently and across the transition. Interestingly, of all the adjustment variables, the prediction of academic achievement was the most robust. The social goal variables added significantly to the prediction of several of the adjustment variables, above and beyond the peer variables. Generally, peer acceptance was a stronger predictor of psychological adjustment for boys, whereas aspects of friendship were more important for girls' psychological adjustment. For both boys and girls, peer acceptance significantly predicted the school adjustment variables. In examining change across the transition, academic achievement and early adolescents' endorsement of learning goals declined significantly. Results of this study point to the importance of including a peer component in intervention programs designed to improve early adolescents' adjustment during the transition to middle school.

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